OverviewThe Forney Ridge Trail provides the only access to this fantastic peak. Andrews Bald is the highest "bald" in the Smokies and one of the most gorgeous with its Flaming Azalea. The Forney Ridge Trail starts at the west end of the Clingmans Dome Parking area and is one of the few trails in Smoky Mountains National Park that actually descends from the main crest.
Getting ThereFrom Gatlinburg, TN:
Take 441 South towards Newfound Gap for access to the western end of the trail. Continue up to Newfound Gap and take a right onto the Clingmans Dome Road that will continue for seven miles back to the Clingmans Dome parking area. From here the trailhead leaves the west end of the parking area.
From Cherokee, NC:
Take 441 North out of Cherokee and continue to Newfound Gap. Just before you reach the overlook at Newfound Gap you will want to turn left onto the Clingmans Dome Access road. Take this for seven miles back to the parking area. The trailhead starts at the west end of the parking lot.
Route DescriptionThe trail starts from the parking lot and starts a descent to the saddle between Clingmans Dome and Andrews Bald. The first part of the trail heads through an area devastated by the Balsam Wooly Alegid, which has killed 70% of the Fraser Firs in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This first section of trail is well laid out and well groomed as it is characterized by sections of steps laid out with railroad ties. There are also some openings in the trees that provide some nice views to the south/southeast. The trail then continues to the saddle, leaving the "tie manicured" trail and entering a more natural setting, as it leaves the hustle and bustle of the Clingmans Dome parking area. The saddle are consists of large Fir stands which provide for some of the greatest trail to be found anywhere in the park.
From the saddle it's time to start the moderate climb back up to the summit of Andrews Bald. It is very short and you do not gain a lot of elevation. That's not to say it's a cake walk though as the trail has some slick footing and that's one thing that can be said about this trail. The majority of it from the Clingmans Dome parking area to the saddle is basically a free-flowing little creek or stream. This makes for some interesting footing. The actual summit of Andrews Bald is still in the trees, but less than a hundred yards away is the gorgeous bald.
Once you enter the bald you are leaving behind the dense vegetation of th fir stands you just passed through for good. The bald consists of a grassy clearing with some small frasers and rhododendron bushes mixed in here and there. Also on the bald is the trademark vegetation of the mountain, the flaming azalea. These fire colored flowers bloom in mid to late June all over the summit.
From here, most people choose to head back the way they came which makes for a 3.6 mile out and back hike. You can also continue down the Forney Ridge Trail if you have a longer trip in mind.